It is with the zeal of the newly converted that I talk to you about meditation today. Open your eyes and take your hands from your ears. Quit making those faces. I know you don’t want to hear that you should be meditating. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Because really, you should be doing this. And I’ve got all kinds of excellent reasons why. But here’s the most important one for our purposes: it will enhance your writing.
I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, a bit about my history with meditation. I’ve danced around it for years. Started doing it, then stopped, mostly because I thought that when my mind wandered I wasn’t doing it right. Plus, I followed the common advice to start with five minutes. I happen to think that is bad advice, because if you start that small you won’t see any results and if you don’t see any results you won’t keep doing it. But I’ve always been interested in getting a meditation practice going so last fall I signed up for a class at my church. (And let’s get one thing straight here, right out of the gate: meditation is not religious in any way. It is a practice and as such it can be whatever you want it to be — spiritual, creative, secular.)
And, amazingly enough, we were required to actually meditate in this class — both while class was in session and at home. Meditate for 20 minutes at a stretch. Meditate in a meditation class? Go figure. 20 minutes at a time? Yikes. That was what I thought. But pretty soon I figured out that I loved it. That it affected me in ways I could feel immediately, both in the way I approached my day to day life and my creativity. And so I encourage you to try it.
Here’s what I’ve learned that may help you begin:
Go longer. I know, this is counter-intuitive. And most advice will tell you the opposite — to start with five minutes. But when I did that I never felt any benefits and so I just gave up. Start with 15 minutes, once a day. Sitting for 15 minutes is really hard at first, but once you start seeing how it affects you, it will get easier.
Your mind will wander. It just will. But your job is just to guide it back, to either the breath or the mantra, over and over again. I used to sit for five minutes, if that, and my mind would wander all over the place so I’d think I was a failure at meditation and stop. Nope. The point of the whole thing is to keep starting over. For the record, I’ve heard your brain gets better and less prone to distraction, but I haven’t noticed that yet.
Your head may nod, like you are catching yourself dozing off. Mine does. Its because I get so relaxed. But I used to think it was a personal failing that meant I couldn’t meditate and so I’d end my session and leap up. (I really was the worst meditator ever. If I can get a practice going, anyone can.)
Transcendence. No, you didn’t fall asleep. You experienced something called transcendence where you go deep into a different state. This always often happens to me during guided meditations. I hear the voice leading the meditation for a couple minutes and then I’m gone until the voice is pulling us back to the room. Again, I used to assume this was a bad thing. Actually, its the opposite.
Try different kinds. I prefer a mantra meditation, though my teacher hates that style and likes good old fashioned paying attention to the breath. There are many different mantras you can use, like release, let go, spirit, the name of a beloved wisdom teacher or whatever resonates with you. I use the phrase Hum Sa. (I’m not even sure I’m spelling it correctly.) I believe it means the combination of the alpha and the omega, or infinity. But the thing is, when I use a mantra like let go, I start thinking about all the things I want to let go of and I get distracted. Hum Sa is just boring enough to keep me focused.
Use a timer. I downloaded the Insight Timer app to my phone. (It’s free!) It offers gentle bell and gong sounds for the start and finish of your session, and shows you all the people around the world you are meditating with, which is very cool. You can also track your progress and so on. And there are tons of guided meditations as well, plus you can connect with other meditators. There’s also Headspace, which I had a brief flirtation with. It offers a free 10-day trial, in which a guy with a really cool voice tells you about meditation and then has you do it for 10 minutes. Not a bad way to start.
Here’s how it benefits me in life and as a writer
First, I feel washed clean inside. That’s the best way I can describe it, as if my brain has just had a soothing shower. And let me tell you, my brain can always use a shower. Because it gets clogged up with all kinds of negative crap very easily.
Compassion. I am the queen of judgment. Yes, I am. But since I’ve been meditating I find that easing a bit. I find myself able to open up to what’s in front of me without judging it quite so quickly. And compassion is an excellent trait for a writer. We need to be open to every aspect of the world so that we can incorporate it in our writing.
Clarity. Things are just clearer. That’s all. It’s funny, because many of these effects are subtle and hard to describe. But don’t let the fact they are subtle dissuade you from trying it, because subtle can have a huge impact. In my writing, if I have clarity, I make progress. If I don’t, I get blocked.
Stillness. I never sit still. Ever. I’m always wiggling or twitching or picking or doing something. But a few weeks before Christmas I found myself sitting in church and I realized I was completely still. I had my hands in my lap and I was simply listening and soaking everything in. Since then, I’ve caught myself in stillness several times. This is so amazing to me I can’t even begin to tell you.
Focus. It is much easier to stay focused when you’ve been training your brain. This is one way that meditation impacts my writing, and its a biggie. I am a high input person, meaning I want to learn about all the things, all the time. The internet was made for me, I’m telling you — made for me. I can go down a rabbit hole of some obscure topic and not come up for hours.
It teaches you to begin again and again. When you meditate, your mind will wander, as I’ve stated. And you have to keep pulling your mind back to your breath or your mantra. Sound familiar? Because a writing practice is all about the process of starting, and starting again, over and over.
Ideas will fill your head. This happens to me while meditating and later, too. I used to feel I had to stop and write everything down. But I find if I stay present I remember it when I’m finished. Really, I do. I get ideas for new projects and I get ideas that pertain to my WIPs as well. It’s the best.
I’m less reactive. I’m less apt to leap to conclusions, or to make snap judgments. Which is better for my relationships and thus better for my writing. Because contrary to popular belief, one does not need to suffer to be a good writer. A happy writer is a productive writer, at least in my world. When I’m worried about something, I can’t write.
It eases anxiety. I’m normally a pretty chill person, but I get my fair share of nerves. Meditation helps with this, too. And who doesn’t stress about their writing. Is it good enough? Will publishers like it? Will I sell copies if I self publish? And so on, ad infinitum.
So if all these reasons are not enough to convince you that you need to start meditating, I don’t know what is. Yes, it takes time — but who doesn’t have 15 minutes? You can do this. And it will help you maintain a consistent writing practice.
Let me know how it works out for you, or if you have any questions.